Yuan Wang 5: Sri Lanka’s government allowed a controversial Chinese research vessel to visit the island despite India’s concerns that it might spy on New Delhi’s military installations, news agency AFP quoted officials as saying.
Yuan Wang 5 is described by international shipping and analytics sites as a research and survey vessel, but is said to be a dual-use spy ship.
New Delhi is skeptical of Beijing’s growing presence in the Indian Ocean and influence in Sri Lanka, seeing both of them firmly within its sphere of influence.
The Yuan Wang 5 was originally due for a call at the Chinese-run Hambantota port in Sri Lanka on August 11, only to have Colombo ask Beijing to indefinitely postpone the trip.
But Sri Lanka’s port master Nirmal P Silva said that they have received the approval of the Ministry of External Affairs to call the ship to Hambantota from August 16 to 22.
“Today I got diplomatic clearance. We will work with the local agent appointed by the ship to ensure logistics at the port,” Silva told AFP.
Foreign Ministry sources confirmed Colombo had given fresh permission for the visit, which was initially granted on July 12, a day before former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled after months of protests over the country’s worst economic crisis was given.
Rajapaksa – whose brother Mahinda borrowed heavily from China when he was president from 2005 to 2015 – resigned after fleeing to Singapore?
Tens of thousands of protesters stormed his palace and home in Colombo after accusing him of mismanagement in the economic crisis, leading to severe shortages of food, fuel and medicines.
Port officials said the Chinese ship was about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) southeast of Sri Lanka on Friday night and was slowly heading towards the Hambantota deep sea port.
Sri Lanka leased the port to China for 99 years for $1.12 billion, which is less than the $1.4 billion Sri Lanka paid to a Chinese company to build it.
According to Indian government sources, the Yuan Wang 5 could be employed for space and satellite tracking, and has specific uses in intercontinental ballistic missile launches.
New Delhi’s foreign ministry has said it will “closely monitor any impact on India’s security and economic interests and take all necessary measures to protect them”.